Washington - Federal
workers likely felt the chill on Monday after President Trump issued a hiring
freeze that would be "applied across the board in the executive
branch," an order that reinforced candidate Trump's frequent promises to
"drain the swamp" and reduce the federal workforce.
Yet the freeze
left open plenty of exceptions. Jobs that agency heads say have national
security or public safety responsibilities are exempt. So are military jobs,
though The Post's Lisa Rein reports that it's unclear whether that applies to
civilian defense roles or just uniformed personnel. The memo also says the
Office of Personnel Management may grant exemptions when they are
however, are just one reason human resources experts warn that hiring freezes
can be damaging to the morale of the people left to pick up the slack. If
hiring freezes lead to frustration and burnout, it's usually the top performers
who leave first. And limiting the number of people who are hired, they say, can
result in more risk aversion -- and therefore, less innovation -- while driving
stressed and overwhelmed workers to take shortcuts.
got this problem of people being overworked, and they end up finding
workarounds, it can cost money in the long run," says Peter Cappelli, a
professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.
course, is the corporate president, a real estate magnate who touts his
business know-how and dealmaking chops. Yet few businesses use across-the-board
hiring freezes anymore, says Brian Kropp, who leads the human resources
practice at the consultancy CEB. "Most companies don't do it," he
says. "The world changes so quickly that you need people with particular
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Of course, most
businesses are looking to grow, and as a result, eventually expand headcount
after they get out of the rough spot that led them to suspend hiring. Trump,
meanwhile, has said he wants to reduce the size of the federal government
through attrition. If lower morale leads to even more departures, it could
serve his aims.
Yet until that
happens, managing the expectations and motivations of the people who remain
will be critical. Making a freeze across-the-board, but allowing for
exceptions, can be a recipe for bickering and infighting.
"If you start
making exceptions, it can create this huge sense of inequality -- why did they
get it through and mine didn't?" Kropp says. Former personnel chiefs told
The Post's Rein they would expect agency chiefs to interpret the exemptions
Best jump first
companies put in hiring freezes that overload workers, it's typically the best
people who jump first.
who are most marketable are the first ones to go out the door," says Wayne
Cascio, a professor at the University of Colorado Denver's business school who
has studied downsizings and restructuring.
For Trump, of
course, "the best people," as he likes to say, probably aren't the
ones he wants to lose. And among the people who remain, there could be burnout
or frustration. Kropp says CEB's research shows that hiring freezes can cause a
productivity drag of 5 to 15 percent. And the effect could particularly hit
federal workers: While many see their jobs as having a sense of purpose through
public service, surveys show that government employees, on the whole, lag well
behind their private sector counterparts when it comes to employee engagement.
say that if the hiring freeze is relatively short-lived, its effects may be
limited. Trump's order says the hiring stop is scheduled to last 90 days,
beyond which the Office of Management and Budget "shall recommend a
long-term plan to reduce the size of the Federal Government's workforce through
attrition." If individual workers don't feel it personally affect them or
their responsibilities, Cascio says, "in the short term there's probably
not going to be much of an impact" on morale.
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could be felt in other ways. When there's a hiring freeze on, people tend to
grow more wary of taking chances and work less creatively, Kropp says. "One
of the things we've seen occur a lot," he says, is when organizations
"start cutting budgets, the levels of innovation fell pretty dramatically.
Employees we surveyed said they weren't going to try something new because they
thought they were going to get punished."
And if workers
feel under stress and overwhelmed, they may provide slower service or find
workarounds to help them get things done. Indeed, an often cited 1982
Government Accountability Office study found that past hiring freezes actually
ended up costing more.
just the hours of the work," Cappelli says. "It's the stress of doing
your own job and someone else's job you don't really want to do."